Queen’s fails on Campus Freedom Index

Queen’s received an “F” grade in this year’s Campus Freedom Index

A student writes on the Free Speech Wall, which was taken down last April.
A student writes on the Free Speech Wall, which was taken down last April.

The AMS and Queen’s administration both received a failing grade in this year’s Campus Freedom Index, a report released by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF).

The JCCF, which has for the past two years reviewed freedom of speech across 45 Canadian university campuses, serves to promote the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms through education, and litigation, according to their website.

Schools are given a grade ranking from “A” to “F” based on factors like campus “speech codes”.

“Speech codes” are university policies or by-laws that serve to censor students, faculty or guest speakers who present “views that are considered ‘controversial,’ ‘offensive,’ or unpopular”, according to the JCCF’s website.

The Index examines the policies and practices of both university administrations and student unions.

This was the first time Queen’s received a failing grade, for its practices on both levels. For policies, the AMS received a “D” grade and the administration received a “C” grade.

Queen’s was also condemned in the index for the departure of Professor Michael Mason for violating the University Senate’s Educational Equity Policy.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers claimed that administrators “compromised Mason’s basic civil liberties”.

The index also noted an incident in the late 1990s, when the AMS discussed for three hours whether the Star Trek club was equitable, because its constitution claimed that “no Klingons” were allowed.

One of the major incidents that reflected poorly on Queen’s in the index was the removal of the Freedom of Speech wall, set up by Queen’s Student for Liberty (QSL) and co-sponsored by JCCF, in April of this year.

“[The removal] of the Free Speech Wall event was unlawful and inappropriate. [Administration] needs to amend their policies so that future administrators will not have the authority to impose blatant censorship,” Michael Kennedy, co-author of the Index, said.

The AMS removed the wall, in conjunction with the University’s administration, after AMS President Doug Johnson said it violated Queen’s Code of Conduct by promoting hate speech, after inflammatory and provocative language was written on the Wall.

Kennedy said that students have protected freedoms under the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights that must be upheld.

“As long as opinions are expressed in a peaceful manner, neither Queen’s University nor the student union has any right to censor speech based on content,” he said.

Kennedy said it’s possible for students to change the way their administration, and student union, treats free speech.

“When incidents of censorship occur … write to your local media and seek the support of groups like JCCF to challenge university and student unions to do the right thing,” he said.

The highest grades were given to Ryerson University, Acadia and the University of British Columbia.

Schools that fared the worst overall were Carleton University and the University of Ottawa.

Queen’s was one of 23 schools that had earned at least one “F”. The index stated that 51 per cent of the examined universities censor students, or failed to protect student’s rights.

Thomas Pritchard, AMS vice-president (university affairs), said the current executive wouldn’t condemn the actions of last year’s team without approval from AMS Assembly.

“If any student has a concern with a policy, they may bring a motion to the AMS Assembly to alter the policy,” he said.

Tyler Lively, campus coordinator for QSL, organized the Free Speech Wall alongside JCCF.

Lively originally planned to pursue a lawsuit against the University for violating the Criminal Code of Conduct. He said he decided against it as it would be difficult while in school.

Lively said he wasn’t surprised that the University fared poorly on the Index.

“[Students] should be held to higher standards, and that means we should be able to discuss things that are extremely controversial in an academic setting, and the University just doesn’t seem to think that’s true,” he said.

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